a pictured pause…

The paper for my UK class is finally starting to take shape… and by that, I mean a shape that doesn’t make me want to throw the laptop out the window. It’s quite normal for me to hate my research papers, because I can’t get them to say what I want them to say. Until about 24 hours after I’ve written them, I decide they weren’t so bad, after all. So, now that I know I have all day tomorrow to finish it, and I’m well into the fourth page, I can breathe more easily. 12287557_10153686755089976_285132929_o 12295085_10153686751844976_1654943065_oSo, before I go see how the Christmas tree decorating is going, I thought the least I could do is share a few of my latest pictures. Mostly taken at Thanksgiving, I can assure you that we dined most deliciously on all the food that you could desire. Oh, right, the cake pictures were taken before Thanksgiving, because my mom tends to bake cakes for parties at work. They’re addicted to her cooking and baking (as are we). And I was feeling all artistic after taking some of these.  : )12290528_10153693025334976_102409055_o12281770_10153697314914976_836887180_oMost of my brothers made it to town, along with my youngest bro’s dog. Bullet has been part of the family for almost a year now, I think, and we occasionally get “custody” of him when my brother has to go do military stuff. Now that my brother is MARRIED, then Bullet stays with my sister-in-law instead. However, Bullet’s a really nice dog, and we love having him to visit, too. This picture I included was taken after he realized that he WAS going home with Joe and Amanda, instead of staying with us. Or rather, he leaped into his bed in the car, and couldn’t be shifted, as if he was afraid he might get left behind after all. So, for a rescue dog that lucked into being adopted by a young man in the Air Force… life is good for him, and he just LOVES my brother and his wife.12318272_10153697411134976_1543031468_oAnd now, away I go, and by tomorrow, I should be ONE research paper closer to being done with this semester! Hooray!

to eat or not to… no, wait, definitely to eat!

I’m so behind on sharing photos and recent happenings! But with several birthdays within the last month and a few other holidays or office shindigs that require baking, as well as having one brother come home from being based in England… we’ve been in food heaven! So, here I am, trying to share some of the wonderfulness of all the food, while I run away for the weekend. Let’s see if I can pull it together in time.DSC_0441

DSC_0452DSC_0453This all started back in April, but what with all my school papers and things, I just took the pictures and kept going with school. Soon, all the pictures of deliciousness began to pile up… I took the time to make my FB and Instagram friends drool, but I can’t make myself just post a million pictures of cake on here without saying at least something, you know.DSC_0455DSC_0459DSC_0477So, for Easter, my mom wanted to try out a new cake recipe… I can’t remember the exact name of it, but she bought special black cherry and black raspberry preserves to put between the layers and I think there’s some kind of cordial or liqueur in the icing… I’ll remember the more recent ones better, I promise! So, along with our wonderful Easter lunch of ham and all the trimmings (including pretzel jello), we finished off with that wonderful cake.DSC_0483DSC_0487DSC_0493And then, with the onset of May, not only did my brother arrive home from England, but several birthdays hit (including mine), followed by Mother’s Day, and we were just eating, eating, eating! At that point, I forgot to take pictures of our dinner meals because there were just too many amazing meals. And I know I have a picture of Joe’s birthday cake somewhere, but I seem to have misplaced it. It was our favorite chocolate birthday cake, though.DSC_0504 DSC_0512DSC_0519With the arrival of summer, a work shindig was arranged at my mom’s workplace, and she decided to make several cakes from new recipes. There was a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, a lemon blackberry, and a chocolate one. Each was in layers, and at least one had a special compote/jam to go in the middle. Actually, she had to simmer blackberries and lemon zest on the stove for a long time, in order to turn it into that jam layer. I tried very hard to be around for all the icing procedures, etc.., but I missed the carrot cake going together. So, seeing them after they were cut sometimes had to suffice.In the midst of this, she managed to make some no-bake chocolate cookies for church, and the rest of us waited hopefully to see if leftovers would come home from work. They did, and we went on sugar overload.DSC_0484DSC_0524DSC_0529On the heels of all that baking, my birthday arrived. I knew that we had just had a whole chocolate cake for Joe’s birthday, plus leftovers from all the cakes for the work party. So, just like last year, I decided to make my own cake…. an Aussie pavlova. I don’t remember if I’ve made it since last year, so it was a little bit like starting from scratch. But it came together, though I was certain it was on the soft side, and I still mustn’t have baked it long enough. The whipped cream really weighed down the soft center, but it was still lovely.DSC_0532DSC_0538Because I was already on a roll and because I had one or two places I might possibly take that pavlova to get help eating it, I decided to make another one, the following day. Good to get some practice in, before I forgot what I’d done before. So, this time, I whipped the egg whites much better and I could tell the batch was better. Not sure to explain how, but it looked right. It baked beautifully, and I baked it much longer than before… the whole 1.5 hours. Different recipes call for different times, so I’ve been experimenting. The goal of an Aussie pavlova is to get it crunchy on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside. Thus far, the outside edge was always extremely sticky and soft… it never cut well and was difficult to get off the knife or spatula.DSC_0629DSC_0635DSC_0639I took the second pavlova to a graduation party for someone at church that Saturday, and it was a hit. When I cut it, it cut so easily that I was stunned and went shrieking to my mom about it. It was definitely crispy on the outside, and I got some really nice compliments on it.From there, it was the day before Mother’s Day, and I was planning to make my mom a pound cake to eat with strawberries. So, that evening, I followed that recipe and double-checked with her to make sure I didn’t pull it out too soon. I’m not as experienced with cake as I am with baking cookies, so I was being careful. But it came out really well (if a bit dry, to my taste). DSC_0652IMG_20140509_194145276IMG_20140510_125837025And with that, and very few details in between, I have finally caught you up on all the baking that our family has done over the last month or two. Hope you enjoy the pics, and yes, I probably can find links to recipes or at least tell you what books we got the recipes out of, if necessary.  : )IMG_20140510_230746588 IMG_20140511_125948130

baking baby bundts…

Oh, come on, I couldn’t resist the alliterative opportunity in that title. But since my mom made these not long after Christmas, it was about time I posted some of the pictures.DSC_0999

DSC_1002Some time ago, my mom saw a particular recipe in Southern Living, called Rum-Glazed Sweet Potato Cakes, and not only did they sound delicious, she loved the little bundt shapes they came in. So, somebody got her the bundt pans for Christmas. And since we always have sweet potato for Christmas dinner, she was able to put some aside for the cakes, for a later date.DSC_1009

DSC_1023That day came a day or two after Christmas, since my brothers were still in town and my aunt and uncle were coming to visit. I don’t have the recipe here for you, just the pictures. But I can tell you that pureed sweet potato was added to the mixture, and there were golden raisins soaked in rum, also. After the raisins were removed from the rum, the leftover rum was used to make the glaze.DSC_1029

DSC_1031Of course, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, then you’ll know my family has made their own vanilla, some time back. We have several varieties, made from two different types of vanilla beans and three types of alcohol (bourbon, rum, vodka). So, our recipes are all even yummier than ever, with homemade vanilla to add to the mixtures. Obviously, since these were rum-glazed cakes, we used the Tahitian Rum Vanilla.DSC_1036

DSC_1037Since we’re familiar with making pumpkin bread or banana bread, most of our family were expecting these cakes to be heavier, but they were really quite light and moist. They were a big hit with the entire family. Deliciousness!DSC_1046

DSC_1048P.S. Remembering to check back, the recipe came out of the November 2012 issue of Southern Living.DSC_1050DSC_1058

the birthday monsters…

I was in the storage closet at work, re-stocking potato chips, when for the first time, I noticed a list on the wall. Looking closer, I found that most of my fellow employees had their names written down, followed by their birth dates. No wonder they’re able to remember when everyone’s birthdays are. My co-workers love just about any excuse to get Anita to bring in cake, or for IMG_6718someone to order one of those gigantic cookies. A day with extra dessert is always a good day.

Checking the list again, to my intense satisfaction, I realized that my name wasn’t yet on it. Even knowing that I’ve been asked more than once (and answered truthfully), it still hasn’t been written down on that particular list. You’re probably surprised that this pleased me, but I assure you, my friends are not. Actually, in this case, it doesn’t really matter, because my co-workers rarely sing anyone “Happy Birthday”, with the exception of my boss. They just make sure there’s some kind of cake or cookies to share around.

It’s partially Eddie’s fault, you know. I’ve always loved to have my family sing the birthday song to me, on that special day, or even by a group of friends. But my horror of being sung to, in a public place, was probably worsened by him.

My cousin-in-law, before he married my cousin, was already a good friend of our family’s. And then, one year, I made a big mistake. Out of the goodness DSC_0527of my helpful, friendly heart, I agreed to pick him up from the Atlanta airport. On my birthday. I drove to Atlanta, all unsuspecting, and met him at the terminal. If you’ve ever been in ATL or any other large airport, you’ll be familiar with those areas that are wall-to-wall escalators, each one of them about a mile long.

While ascending the escalator, and completely unable to escape, Eddie took the opportunity to bellow to the masses, “Everybody! Today is Rachel’s birthday!”, and a nearby person shouted back, “Should we sing to her?”. Ready to sink through the floor, I had to stand there and take it, while an airport-full of people sang me Happy Birthday. My memory has blanked out a bit on what followed, but I was probably torn between chewing him out and never wanting to speak to him again, but he didn’t care, he thought it was the greatest prank ever. Resulting from this, I swore that I’d never go to the airport on my birthday again, because no one can be trusted in this respect.

Do you have those friends that take you to a restaurant on your birthday, and then in order to get you some free cake, they call in the waiters to sing you the stupidest rendition of Happy Birthday ever? My family knows better.

My friends did it to me, once, aLittleRachelCloseup few years ago, at Outback Steakhouse. Of course, they thought it was hilarious, but I was in that wonderful quandary that every adult, who’s easily embarrassed by being the center of attention, goes through. You want to act like a two year old and throw something at your friends, and at the singing waiters, and you know they’re (supposedly) trying to do something nice for you. But since you think it’s the most horrifying ordeal imaginable, you have a very hard time thinking well of them.

Now, if you have friends that do it on purpose (I have some of those, too), just to embarrass you, then the solution is never to go out to eat with them, anywhere near your birth month. The other option is to threaten the daylights out of your safer friends, and then beat them to the restaurant to lay down the law to the wait staff. I have no shame in admitting that I did that, the year before I left for Australia. We were going to Red Lobster for my birthday dinner, and unable to completely trust my friends to try something, I arrived fifteen minutes early, to talk to the hostess. “If it’s my birthday, then what the birthday girl says is what goes, right?”, I wanted to know. Admittedly, she probably thought I was crazy, but I explained to her that no matter what my friends used as bribes, I did not want anyone singing to me.

Remember, I said I loved having my friends sing to me (preferably in a non-public place), or having my family sing to me? This is true. Some of my happiest birthday memories involve being surrounded by my loved onesDSC_0148 and then blowing out the candles, even when there are more and more to deal with. This is not an age issue. Age is just a number, and for the record, I turn 33 this year. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

It’s probably the same reason I’m not a big prankster. While many of them are funny, I tend to think that a lot of them are just plain mean. And believe you me, I can tell you some crazy prank stories from when I was a summer staffer. But I think that you should be pulling pranks on the people that enjoy them. If you’re playing tricks on someone that will cry, then you shouldn’t be doing it. I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings, and sometimes, people are just hiding their horror over what you’ve done. If you rub salt in the wound by doing something you KNOW they will hate, then my policy is to not do it.

Now, I know that some of you are already gearing up to ask me when my birthday is, but it isn’t very soon, and I won’t be telling you right now. You can probably figure it out, if you search the backlog on this blog, far enough. But if someone asks me in person, I immediately look them over good and HiphopRachel2hard, wondering if they plan to use this knowledge for good or evil. I know the types, I’m not stupid.  : )

This year, once again, I am going to thoroughly enjoy being home with my family on that special day. I will also, probably, have a group birthday celebration with some of my best friends, up north. But when I’m with them, there won’t be any singing, because they’re even worse than I am about public moments of embarrassment. You think I’m kidding? You have no idea.

So, for all you birthday monsters out there, save your singing for those that enjoy it. Consider the feelings of those you’re “celebrating”. If they protest halfheartedly, they might just mean it, but not want to show how much it bothers them. But I’m not really worried that my co-workers will try it, as I said before. They still have to remember to ask when my birthday is. Maybe I’ll get lucky, and they’ll forget until after it’s over.  : )

once upon a pie crust…

Once upon a time, I was in Australia. And I had friends that weren’t familiar with certain kinds of food, so I introduced them to pumpkin pie, buttermilk biscuits, white chili soup, Christmas cut-outs, and no-bake cookies. In return, they introduced me to eating lamb, potato wedges (with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream), pumpkin soup, lamingtons, pavlova, and vegemite. It was an excellent trade-off, but now that I’m not over there, I would give anything to have an Aussie meat pie or sausage roll.

The week before I left Australia, my friends threw me a going-away party. The joke was that they were celebrating my departure, but really, it was wonderful to know that they would miss me. During my final week there, I was so busy packing and doing last minute tasks, that I didn’t really have time to visit everyone, nor did I want to have to break down over numerous goodbyes. So, a massive sendoff from all my closest friends was just perfect.

On the day of my party, I had decided to bring some American desserts for the party, but I was on my very last can of pumpkin. That meant there wouldn’t be enough to make a pumpkin pie for both my friends AND my Aussie family. So, I decided to make pumpkin bars and funny cake.

Now, when I originally planned this post, I couldn’t find some of my recipes, because they had been packed, and I didn’t want to put both recipes in the same post. Reviewing my blog dashboard, I don’t believe I ever wrote that pumpkin bar post, either. So, I’m going to stick with the original plan and write about the funny cake, and give you the recipe for pumpkin bars later. Bear with me, I’ll get it together. This one is three months behind, as it is.

Funny cake is a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. Back in the days when Germans were settling Pennsylvania (you know, in the 1600’s), they were referred to as “Deutsch”, but the word was eventually Americanized into “Dutch”. In that part of the country, you’ll find many foods that are of German origin, which you won’t find any other places in the country. For example, you don’t get “shoo-fly pie” almost anywhere else, and that’s a sad loss, because I love shoo-fly pie. It’s a pie made with molasses, in case you’re wondering.

My dad’s family is from Allentown, PA, and they grew up eating funny cake and other PA Dutch dishes, and so did we. We even have it instead of birthday cake, sometimes. When I heard my older brother got it for his birthday, when I was in Australia, I was very jealous, which is probably why I decided to make some in Australia.

It isn’t a small recipe, as the mixture makes three pies worth. I knew it would be plenty to share with both friends and family, before I left. It never lasts long, at home, because we’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if we can get away with it. Originally, I thought it was called a funny cake because it’s put into a pie crust, but it’s really a cake. But my parents told me that it’s really a funny cake because if you put the cake batter in first, and then pour in the chocolate sauce, the chocolate sauce still ends up on the bottom of the cake. So, you can try the recipe, and decide for yourself why it’s a funny cake.

While overseas, my determination to introduce my friends to pumpkin pie gave me a lot of opportunity to improve my pie crust making skills. Even when the dough was being completely uncooperative, I could “press” it into the pie plate, eventually covering the whole thing, and it would still come out beautifully. This was a good thing, because I would have to make three pie crusts for the recipe, which required me to go buy another pie pan, because my Aussie family didn’t have enough of them. I also found a pasty blender (finally!) at the housewares store, so I could use that instead of a fork! Hooray!

Just for a reminder, here’s the pie crust recipe, first, and then the recipe for funny cake:

Flaky Pastry for 1-crust pie

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp butter (or Crisco)

2 to 2.5 tbsp cold water

Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Sprinkle on cold water, 1 tbsp at a time, tossing mix lightly and stirring with a fork. Dough should be moist enough to hold together when pressed gently with a fork. It should not be sticky. Shape dough into smooth ball with hands and then roll. Put crust in 9-inch pie pan and crimp edges.

~

Funny Cake

Cocoa Mix:

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 cup water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Cake Mix:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup margarine

2 eggs

2.5 cups flour

1 cup milk

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

Mix up cocoa mix, separately, and set aside. Cream butter & sugar (make sure butter is soft), then add the other ingredients. Pour cake mix evenly into THREE pie crusts. Then pour even amounts of cocoa mix into cake batter. Chocolate will sink to the bottom, while in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

~

My pie crust making went beautifully. If you’re reading my recipe, one way of making this a “funny” cake is that you can pour the chocolate in after the cake batter, and it will still sink. But you can do it the other way, too, which is how I did it. I poured the cocoa mix in first, so that I had an even amount in each pie crust. Then, I poured the cake batter, evenly, into the crusts. The cake batter will just pile in the middle, for the time being, and the cocoa mixture will sit on the sides, but that’s normal. It will settle down when it’s in the oven.

When your cakes are finished, let them cool for a while, but you can refrigerate them if you need them to cool faster. Unless you have a house that’s prone to ants, though, you don’t need to keep them refrigerated. They’ll probably get eaten too fast to go bad, anyway. I’m sorry, I never took pictures, but when you first cut into the funny cake, you’ll find a flaky crust with a thin layer of chocolate right above it, and then a delicious yellow cake on top of that. But it holds together so well, you can eat it with your hands.

Oh, and by the way, when you look at these pictures, I found out later that I had pulled them out just a LITTLE too early. So, they were a little underdone in spots, though they still tasted wonderful. So, you want the tops to be a little more of a golden brown, not quite so yellow.

At my going-away party, I’m sorry to say (ok, not really), we all ate too much food and dessert, so that we weren’t able to distinguish the deliciousness of some of the new desserts. In other words, my friends were too sugared up to figure out how well they liked the funny cake and the pumpkin bars. Instead, I left them with plenty of leftovers, and brought the last funny cake to Bible study, on Sunday. There, we all chowed down, and watching the guys take several pieces made me feel a lot better (and yes, we mostly ate it with our hands).

When I remind myself that this was over three months ago, I’m amazed that time has flown by so easily. That Sunday was the day I had to pull it together, while I hugged everyone goodbye, one last time. Now, I have my “I-miss-Australia” days, regularly. Whether I’m working on a writing project, involving my Australia blog posts, drinking Russian Caravan tea, or talking to an Aussie friend on Skype (I did that this morning), there are times when I just battle the homesickness. I also think of extravagant (and sometimes silly) plans of how to get back there, as soon as possible. But in the end, it always comes down to this… I need to save up the money.

Yes, I can’t go back and visit my friends, every year, until I have a savings account that will allow me to travel that far, and take 2-3 months off of work. This isn’t just a visit to my friends, but the chance to see Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef, and other places that I didn’t see when I was there. So, it’s a long-term goal that I have to strive for. Accept the tears of homesickness that slaps me, now and then, and just continue to resolve to go back and visit.

And so, I’ll keep my long-term goal in my mind, and meanwhile, I’ll plan to share that pumpkin bar recipe with you, shortly. I know where my recipes are, now, it’s just a matter of pulling the box off my shelf. All you foodies, stay with me until then.